Broadcasting a distress call from the U.S.S. Sulaco, Corporal Hicks warns the fleet regarding the dire situation in the colony of Hadley’s Hope on LV-426. As a direct sequel to James Cameron’s Aliens, Gearbox and 20th Century Fox are insisting Colonial Marinesshould be treated as official canon to the Alien franchise, even though it does retcon some source materials and not for the better.
Bringing a dead character back to life isn’t a new concept in the Alien franchise, butColonial Marines doesn’t provide any logical reasons for doing so within the game. The reveal, which doesn’t occur till the end of the game, serves no purpose other than to elicit a response from die-hard fans. Any form of media that completely changes already established facts in a franchise should have a very good reason in doing so, but Colonial Marines fails to have a single valid reason.
Leaving no man (or woman) behind, the Marine Corp. and the U.S.S. Sephora investigate the nature of the distress call, but unknown at the time, the marines aren’t the only interested party in the Sulaco. Weyland-Yutani, the company sanctioning the entire operation, has their own presence and secret agenda. After both ships are destroyed, the marines that survive crash land on LV-426, which has a very active xenomorph population – even though the reactor explosion at the end of Aliens, should have wiped everything off the face of the planet. Considering the majority of the game takes place exploring the colony, it doesn’t sound like that the 40 megaton explosion ever happened.
The uninspiring campaign only lasts a paltry four to five hours, as you take Corporal Winter, a grunt without any personality, through various locales from the movies including: the inside of the Sulaco, the remnants of Hadley’s Hope and the Space Jockey ship. It was cool to see some of the most recognizable locales from Aliens, such as the Hangar Bay where Ripley battled the Queen, which still features the milky lower half of Bishop tossed to the side, the med bay where Burke set a facehugger loose to attack Ripley and Newt, and even finding the head of Newt’s doll in the sewers of the complex.
While all of the locations have an authentic feeling, the presentation for the game fails to capture the atmosphere that an Alien game deserves. The environments are comprised of blurry textures, badly detailed structures and floating shadows. Screen tearing can be seen across all versions, but the PC version which has much improved textures allows vsync to be turned on to eliminate the frequent screen tearing. Regardless of the version, some vents and openings in walls have nothing but complete blackness inside of them, yet others are fully rendered, giving off the feeling that the game isn’t complete after all this time. For a game that has been in development for this long, it’s painful to think that even now, the game wasn’t ready to be released. An Alien game deserves more than the static world found in Colonial Marines
Attacking in groups, xenomorphs pop out of vents, run across ceilings or up or down pillars, ready to pounce in an instant. Sound intense? Don’t hold your breath because it isn’t – at all. While the original Alien movie invoked a sense of horror and Aliens featured an overwhelming number of xenomorphs, which were fast, agile and deadly, in Colonial Marines the xenomorphs neither invoke a sense of horror nor are they fast and agile. During most encounters, the xenomorphs will be leaping across the environments, but then running directly straight at the player from a far off distance, removing any sense of urgency or panic. Occasionally they try to avoid your gunfire, but awkward animations and jerky transitions ruin the entire presentation. At the demand from the fan base, the acid blood that runs through the xenos veins can cause slight damage to the player, but not every time.
Facehuggers are supposed to be nimble and deadly, as they latch on to faces with incredible force, but in Colonial Marines those that actually burst out of the eggs can be tossed aside rather easily with the mashing of a single button. Do they attempt a second attack or scurry across the ground? Nope. They sit differently still until the nearest marine takes them out. The majority of them throughout the game are glitched underneath the eggs however, getting stuck between the egg and the floor. Ironically these are deadlier, since they are able to attack, even though the tail is the only visible part.
The Lurker xenomorph – which resembles Ridley Scott’s smooth head alien design – tries to add tension by sneaking around the environment. Launching themselves at the player, the Lurker attempts to leave a gaping hole in your face, mashing a button will knock them back, giving a Borderlands style “last stand” chance to kill it with your sidearm, before scurrying away. When the AI decides it doesn’t want to work, the Lurker can be seen sitting around a corner, not reacting to anything going on within the game. Feel free to put it out of its misery, because it won’t mind at all.
With Weyland-Yutani in the picture, the xenomorphs aren’t the only thing standing in the marines way. The pacing within the game slows down tremendously, fighting against this other military force usually involves crouching behind cover that doesn’t always protect you. Opening a door with a soldier standing in the room looking directly at you, and nothing will happen for the first few seconds, giving you a clear opportunity to take them out before the ignorant AI wakes up. Perhaps the AI scripting has a five second delay before reacting to anything that happens within the game.
The AI for the colonial marines doesn’t fare much better than those of the xenomorphs or Weyland’s rent-a-cops. Running around empty rooms, retreating to a previous location for no reason or standing directly in the line of fire of a turret are common sights going through the campaign. Progress too far ahead of them and they magically teleport to your location. The same will happen to other players during co-op matches, removing any chance at exploring side rooms if one player wants to run through the entire game as quickly as possible. One of the chapters requires all players to slowly make their way through the sewers without making sounds or risk waking up the new exploding xenomorph. Having someone teleport during this section, leads to a quick death.
Co-op only adds to the entertainment as long as everyone involved can look past the glaring technical shortcomings of the game. Additional players don’t take control of any of the other notable marines in the narrative, but instead are nameless additions that don’t “fit” within the game’s narrative. It’s obvious from a design point of view, that the implementation of co-op was not a high priority. Some of the narrow interiors result in messy firefights, as four players try to eliminate enemies instead of getting in each other’s line of sight. “Outstanding. Now all we need is a deck of cards.”
The non-existent lip-syncing during the game, makes it quite difficult to understand which character is talking at any given moment. My biggest issue with the game’s AI, stems from the enemy AI and friendly AI not recognizing each other and instead, focuses solely on the active player. I don’t mind being an ultimate badass, but when a xenomorph runs directly past the AI marines to attack me every single time, it’s quite frustrating.
Progressing through the game, various challenges become available that provide a quick boost in experience. In my experience – as with the rest of the game’s features – it only works half of the time. I ended up finishing the entire second half of the game without any of the challenges updating. Spending an entirety of a chapter using the precise weapon indicated to complete a challenge (Kill 20 enemies with the pump shotgun), resulted in the challenge never updating past 3/20. The experience gained from the challenges allows you to rank up and purchase upgrades for all of the weapons, such as new attachments, extended magazines, red dot sights and more. Packing quite a few different types of weapons, each one fits in with the Alien franchise such as the iconic pulse rifle, a short burst assault rifle, and two different types of shotguns for close encounters.
There are only three different types of collectibles hidden throughout the chapters, coming in the form of legendary weapons, such as Hicks’s shotgun or Vasquez’s pistol, audio logs and dog tags. The audio logs provide insight about the people that lived in Hadley’s Hope, as well as the more recent Weyland scientists researching the xenomorph species. A radial menu allows for weapons to be easily swapped in and out, without having to ever drop one weapon for another, besides the select few that are found throughout the chapters that are dropped once ammo runs dry (flamethrower, rocket launcher etc.). Having all of these weapons at your disposal, takes away from the overall tension, since you are never strapped for ammo or helpless in the middle of a fight.
The iconic M41A pulse rifle looks and sounds just as it did in Aliens, and Gearbox even went as far as to rip the sound from the door cutting tool straight from the movies. The music follows the action on-screen providing one of the only highlights to the presentation. The motion tracker, while authentic, fails to provide a tense environment full of hidden danger, that would be expected in the Alien franchise. Since everything attacks head on, don’t expect any need for it during the campaign, but during multiplayer, its becomes invaluable when actual players replace the near broken AI controlled xenomorphs.
Carrying over from the campaign, all upgraded weapons can be used across the multiplayer modes. Gaining levels or completing challenges unlocks additional customizable options for both marines and xenomorphs – including a female marine option. Succeeding where the campaign fails, Colonial Marines features four competitive multiplayer modes – Team Deathmatch, Extermination, Escape and Survivor. Xenos are capability of crawling along walls and ceilings, as well as traveling through vents to surprise the marines providing more tense moments in a single match than the entire campaign.
In Team Deathmatch opposing teams of xenomorphs and marines fight to earn points by killing each other until the timer expires. Every round switches the teams, so everyone gets a chance at playing the marine side and the xeno side. Playing as a zone control match, Extermination features marines trying to score points by controlling a set location – essentially King of the Hill – with the aliens attempting to stop them. If anyone was interested, narratively, the location involves a bomb set to destroy xenomorph eggs.
My favorite mode, Escape involves a team of marines trying to reach the goal at the end of the map, while the xeno players try to kill them as quick as possible. It resembles the popular Left 4 Dead style gameplay, and should have the most legs out of all the modes, while the Survivor mode involves a team of marines trying to survive a relentless xeno attack for a maximum of five minutes. As the round progresses, more and more advanced xenos are allowed to spawn, putting more pressure on the surviving marines.
It’s quite obvious that even after all these years, Aliens: Colonial Marines was not ready to be released. It’s a real shame because I’ve been looking forward to Colonial Marines since the first screenshots were released. The campaign features non responsive AI, poor animation and horrendous transitions. It all culminates to an extremely predictable and disappointing boss battle. Co-op, fails to engage players and lacks any interaction between the players, besides being able to revive each other. Xenos don’t hunt the player as they do in the movies, instead they launch themselves directly in front of you, providing disappointing run-and-gun style gameplay and zero tense moments. It does make me wonder, how much time Colonial Marines actually was spent in development and how much time the game simply sat on a shelf before it was released.
The saving grace for the game, the competitive multiplayer does feature the same awful animations, especially when controlling the Xenos in third-person, but the matches at least have more tension than the entire single-player campaign.
Note: The Aliens: Colonial Marines review was written based on the PC version of the game provided by the publisher.